Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

April 8, 2009


NY Times - St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington was founded in 1852 as an insane asylum. It is the site of a $3.4 billion headquarters for the Homeland Security Department, the largest public building project since the Pentagon during World War II. . .

The mammoth undertaking has also drawn sharp criticism from preservationists, who say it will be devastating to a certified national historic landmark, the now-shuttered St. Elizabeths Hospital, a pioneering mental institution. Its residents over the years have included the poet and fascist propagandist Ezra Pound after World War II and, more recently, John Hinckley, who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Objections were also raised by the National Park Service and the United States Department of the Interior, which owns parkland through which an access road is to be carved. Nevertheless, construction is to begin by Sept. 30 . . . The G.S.A. promises to restore 52 of 62 historic structures. . .

The strongest outside objections have come from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which issued a report in 2007 concluding that more than 2.5 million square feet of development would overwhelm the national historic landmark.

NIH - Established in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, St. Elizabeths HospitalDistrict of Columbia." During the Civil War, wounded soldiers treated here were reluctant to admit that they were in an insane asylum, and said they were at St. Elizabeths, the colonial name of the land where the Hospital is located. Congress officially changed the Hospital's name to St. Elizabeths in 1916. By the 1940s, the Hospital complex covering an area of over 300 acres housed 7,000 patients. It was the first and only federal mental facility with a national scope.

In 1987, the federal government transferred the hospital operations to the DC Department of Mental Health, while retaining ownership of the western campus. The original 1850s building has been designated a National Historic Landmark. On the grounds of St. Elizabeths, there is also a Civil War cemetery where 300 Union and Confederate soldiers who died here are buried. The Hospital complex is located on a hill in southeast Washington, overlooking the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers. However, it is closed to the public.
Wikipedia - It is speculated that St. Elizabeths has treated over 125,000 patients, though an exact number is not known due to poor recordkeeping. Additionally, thousands of patients are believed to be buried in unmarked graves across the campus, but, again, records for the individuals buried in the graves have been lost. More than 15,000 known autopsies were performed at St. Elizabeths between 1884 and 1982, and a collection of over 1,400 brains preserved in formaldehyde, 5,000 photographs of brains, and 100,000 slides of brain tissue was maintained by the hospital until it was transferred to a museum in 1986. In addition to the mental health patients buried on the campus, several hundred Civil War soldiers are interred there as well.

At its peak, the St. Elizabeths campus housed 7,000 patients and employed 4,000 people. Beginning in the 1950s, however, large institutions such as St. Elizabeths were being criticized for hindering the treatment of patients. Community-based healthcare, which included local outpatient facilities and drug therapy, was seen as a more effective means of allowing patients to live near-normal lives. The patient population of St. Elizabeths steadily declined.


Blogger m said...

Of what meaning is there to Homeland Security to destroying a hospital, when Homeland Security is doing its best to destroy the Homeland?

April 9, 2009 8:06 AM  

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